Milk and the United Methodist Church

A United Methodist Screening of Milk

Our church, Lockerbie Central United Methodist,  hosted a screening of  Milk last night.   The film follows Harvey Milk as he goes from closested gay New York City insurance salesman to the first openly gay elected offical in California history.

 Not just a politician, Milk represents a movement that even goes beyond the struggle for gay rights.  There was weeping and applause at the end of the film.    

San Francisco Politics as metaphor for the United Methodist Church

Milk  was elected to the Board of City Superviors (San Francisco’s city council), but served only eleven months before he was assasinated. He, along San Francisco Mayor George Moscone,  was murdered  by deranged city supervisor Dan White.   

Josh Brolin brilliantly portrays Dan White in the film, and, according to a 1978 New York Times article, Dan White represented:

 “a largely white, middle-class section that is hostile to the growing homosexual community of San Francisco. […] As a supervisor, Mr. White made it clear that he saw himself as the board’s defender of the home, the family and religious life against homosexuals, pot smokers and cynics.”

Meanwhile, Milk and Moscone represented grassroots, multi-issue progressive politcs.  These two men, along with the fragile governing coalition on the San Francisco’s board of supervisors, represented a multi-cultural, social justice oriented political movement.  It wasn’t perfect but Moscone, and then Milk, were known as long time defenders of the poor, minorities, and small bussinesses.  

With the deaths of Milk, Moscone, and eventually White, a new type of politics took root in San Fransisco. This is symbolized by the rise of Diane Feinstein, who replaced Moscone as Mayor.  A journalist writes that  “… Feinstein did just about anything the developers wanted, driving out small business, driving up rents, gentrifying neighborhoods, and walloping the city budget.

Looking at the Church after watching Milk

The struggle for the future of the United Methodist church (and most churches)  can be summed up through the factions vying for power in Milk.   We got the bigots, we got the emergent/missional movments, and we got the establishment rich folks.  

The Church of Bigotry (ie. Confessing Movement)

The legacy of the politics represented by Dan White–the assassin of Milk and Moscone–can be seen in the Confessing Movement and those who want to see the church preserved in all of its 1950’s glory.  Let’s keep the gays closeted, those who look and think differently than us at arm’s length,  ignore the changing world outside our windows, and hold fast to an idealized version of the glory days.  And, lets shoot down and destroy that which is threatening!  

The Church of Liberation and Coalition Building (ie. Reconciling Movement, General Board of Church and Society, emergent/missional church)

The life and politics that Harvey Milk represented  can also be seen in the United Methodist Church.  

There is a growing grassroots movement that is looking to be part of and rebuild the Methodist movement by bringing different  groups of people to the table to create a better world.  Of course, this can get messy, but this faction believes that “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world” involves bringing people together and building coalitions.    

The Rich Folk’s Church

While the United Methodist church has seen its membership shrink, there are a good number of thriving upper middle class churches.   These are normally the churches where the bishops worship and seem to set the tone for the North American church.  

Like Diane Feinstein, they are “liberal,”  but represent a monied and well-off constituency.  Yeah, they will pay lip service to the poor and the disenfranchised but when push comes to shove, they  seemingly always side with the establishment.    Just as San Francisco has been turned into a playground for rich and well educated liberals, these churches might be doing the same to the United Methodist Church.

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2 thoughts on “Milk and the United Methodist Church

  1. This is an interesting analysis. I’m on the emerging/missional/Reconciling side of this issue, so I largely agree with you. However, let’s be careful not to make a “straw man” out of those who disagree with us. That’s a favored tactic of the right, and while it may encourage those who already agree with you, it doesn’t foster real dialogue or transformation. Those of us in the Reconciling camp should actually make every effort to reconcile ourselves with our brothers and sisters, no matter how misguided they are.

  2. I was on a committee some years ago, who’s purpose was to examine the opinions of my Methodist church. I never learned so much about this issue than by being a part of that. It was not up to us to make a position statement, but to be sensitive to members issues on both sides. It was up to the congregation to put to vote some months later. The congregation took the middle ground, to be a “Welcoming Congregation” but not a Reconciling one. I was amazed at the damage done to long time families for the church having taking even the middle road. Members and leadership lost, families hurt, and tears of parents. I couldn’t help but remember what church member on the reconciling side told me even still:

    “It’s important for to stay at this church, rather than going to the reconciling one in town. Otherwise change is not instituted.”

    I have to admit. I was impressed.

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